My fascination with my Indian roots, an infatuation with its ethnic and cultural diversity, and its deep-seated realization of spirituality have influenced me to share the wealth of my ancient heritage with my readers. I will be posting a series of these blogs every alternate Monday of the month.
I am a proud baby boomer born in 1957 in New Delhi, the capital of India, who had the privilege of breathing and living through the era of transformation, from the traditional to the modern world of “Alexa.” I saw the progressive metamorphosis of India through Industrialization and urbanization in the late fifties and sixties, globalization in the late eighties and nineties leading to westernization in cosmopolitan cities in the early two thousand. I sensed each phase and the changes it brought to people, their behaviors, values, societal norms, and relationships. This change, some of it revolutionary, some gradual, and others fast, made my journey intriguing, challenging, and interesting throughout the years in India up until 2000. I moved to the United States of America in the State of New York among American baby boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials. A wide-ranging cultural shift, an ample shift in the pace of life, and an all-embracing shift in family dynamics. I have seen it all. One has to live it to share the sentiments. The intention of writing this is to make you live it with me, become a part of my growing up and experiences in that milieu, and move to the States with fellow Americans. I hope it will make an exciting read offering a good understanding of the existing cultural differences between the east and the west, then and now.
Let me begin by re-visiting a brief history of India for those who know less about India. Readers need to remember that eight thousand years is being summarized in a few succinct para’s. It’s worth mentioning that each era, each dynasty, and each king brought richness and diversity to its empire, producing agriculture, discovering different kinds of metals and stones to make tools and weapons, creating artifacts, exchanging trade, flourishing art, patterns in architecture, culture, variety in food, customs, and mores. The kings came from distinct geographies, traveling through expanses of mountain ranges, sailing through stretches of rivers and oceans, fighting battles, and occupying disparate lands. Hence developed different provinces in India, South, East, West, and North. Today, traveling from one region to another and in between, every few miles, one finds diverse ethnicities, dialects, food habits, features of people, color choices, art styles, cultures, norms and customs, even design of temples, faces of deities, and gods which are a few thousand. The 19 and 20th centuries saw many inventions, feats, and discoveries recognized throughout the modern world.
History of India
India is a land of ancient civilizations, going back eight thousand years. Its history began with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, a pre-Vedic period. Along with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations rose the Indus Valley civilization spanning Northwest India and modern-day Pakistan. The largest amongst the three civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization flourished around 2600 BC, at which time agriculture in India started flourishing. The fertile Indus valley made it possible for agriculture to be carried out on a large scale. The most well-known towns of the Indus Valley in today’s date are Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. Unearthing these two towns as late as 1963 and 1992 showed excavators glimpses into the richness of the Indus Valley civilization, evidenced in ruins and things like household articles, war weapons, and gold and silver ornaments. The people of the Indus Valley civilization lived in well-planned, well-designed towns and houses made of baked bricks. In an era of development and prosperity, civilization came to an end by around 1300 BC, mainly due to natural calamities.
The next era that India saw was that of the Vedic civilization, with the arrival of Aryans flourishing along the river Saraswati. The Aryans, nomadic cattle herders, came from central Asia, crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains, came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization, and settled there. Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures written in Sanskrit, belong to this era. They contain hymns, philosophy, and guidance on rituals and ways of life for the Hindus. Folklores of Lord Ram and Lord Krishna belong to this period and are worshipped as deities and gods by the Hindus. The great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana based on Lord Krishna and Lord Rama were written during this Vedic era.
The Buddhist era came during the 7th and the 6th centuries BC. Budha, whose original name was Siddhartha Gautama, was the founder of Buddhism - a religion based on spiritualism. He died at the age of 80 in 480 BC, but his teachings spread throughout southern and eastern Asia and are followed across the world today.
In 326 B.C. Alexander the Great crossed the Indus River and occupied a vast region, defeating several Indian rulers in battle. The use of elephants was noteworthy in the Indians’ attempts at war, something that the Macedonians had never seen before. Alexander took over and occupied the lands of the defeated kings.
The Gupta period has been referred to as the Golden Age of Indian history. When Chandragupta received the gift of Pataliputra in dowry when he married the daughter of the chief of the ‘Licchavis,’ he started to lay down the foundation of his empire, which extended from the river Ganges or the Ganga to the city of Allahabad. He ruled for 15 years and was also referred to as the ‘king of kings’ for his strategic conquests and the prospering state of India. Ashoka, the great known for his strategies and knowledge, belonged to this period. The last of the ancient kingdoms in India was by the king Harshavardhana, who ascended the throne at Thanneshwar and Kannauj after his brother died. While successful in a few conquests, he eventually got defeated by the Chalukya Kingdom of Deccan India, now called South India. Harshavardhana was well-known for establishing relations with the Chinese and for having high religious tolerance and strong administrative capabilities.
The medieval history of India is renowned for deriving a lot of its character from Islamic kingdoms. Medieval India extended almost three generations and included several kingdoms and dynasties: The Chalukyas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Rashtrakutas, and the Cholas. The Cholas were the most important rulers at this time, the 9th Century AD. Their kingdom covered a large part of South India, including Sri Lanka and the Maldives. While the rulers ruled bravely and carried out the annexation of multiple territories in India, the empire came to an end in the 14th Century AD. The monuments from the Chola Dynasty are still intact and are known for their rustic charm.
The next major empire was that of the Mughals, preceded by a rise in Islamic rulers. The invasion of Timur was a significant point in Indian history. Finally, in the 16th Century, the Mughal Empire started to rise. One of the greatest empires of India, the Mughal Empire was a rich and glorious one, with the whole of India united and ruled by one monarch. The Mughal Kings were Babar, Humayun, Sher Shah Suri (not a Mughal king), Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. They were responsible for setting up efficient public administration, laying out infrastructure, and promoting and blossoming the arts. A large number of monuments in India today exist from the Mughal period. The death of the last Mughal King, Aurangzeb, sowed the seeds of disintegration within India. Influencers of Islamic architecture in India, the Mughal kings, are still looked back in awe. The world-famous monuments, Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar, Lal Kila, and Humayun Tomb, were built by Mughals.
Chatrapati Shivaji was the founder of the Maratha Empire in western India. He is considered one of the greatest warriors of his time; even today, stories of his exploits are narrated as a part of folklore. King Shivaji used guerrilla tactics to capture a part of the then-dominant Mughal Empire.
During the late 16th and the 17th Centuries, the European trading companies in India competed with each other ferociously. Maharani Laxmibai, famously called Jhansi ki Rani from Gwalior, was known for her courage and wit. She joined rebels to fight the first battle of freedom against the British in 1857 but lost it. By the last quarter of the 18th Century, the English had outdone all others and established themselves as the dominant power in India. The British administered India for about two centuries and brought about revolutionary changes in the country's social, political, and economic life.
However, the zenith of colonization was achieved when the British arrived in the early 1600s as traders. Capitalizing on the disintegration that existed in India after the Mughal rule, the British actively used the strategy of ‘divide-and-rule’ to rule over India for over two centuries. While the British had come in earlier, they only achieved political power in 1757 AD after the Battle of Plassey.
They took a keen interest in the resources that India offered and have been looked back at as plunderers of India’s wealth of resources - as they took cotton, spices, silk, and tea, amongst numerous other resources. While they did lay out a massive chunk of India’s infrastructure, it is seldom looked back at as an equal relationship. The British Raj was divisive and pit Indians against one another on the basis of religion; and also mistreated the laborers. The Indians were essentially slaves of the British rule and worked hard without any returns on their work. This, naturally, led to multiple mutinies; and prominent freedom fighters came to the forefront. Different ideologies of thought believed that there were other ways of gaining freedom; however, they all had one common goal - freedom.
Prominent freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Bose, and Lala Lajpat Rai arose at the time to free the nation. The non-violence movement, under the leadership of Mahatama Gandhi, and the silent protests all over the states finally made the British quit and returned to their country in 1947. Before leaving, they were tricked into dividing the subcontinent into two countries based on religion. Hindu and Muslim. Amongst massacre, slaughtering, and rapes, Hindus migrated to the Hindustan, India, and Muslims to Pakistan, in so-called blood trains, trickling blood on the tracks. India got its freedom from British Raj on Aug 15th, 1947.
Post 2 to continue: - the partition scene of the subcontinent and my parent’s migration to India.